Posts tagged ‘advocacy’

Why Pimping Must Be Legal Too. by Cheryl Overs with special thanks to Marc of Frankfurt for giving this article a much better name.

Sex workers rights activists are living in exciting times. We now have a formal mechanism for inputting into UN policy, the NSWP UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work and the Commission on HIV and Law convened by UNDP is a golden opportunity for an authoritative recommendation that sex work be decriminalised. Substantial support for such a recommendation has already come from senior UN officials including the Secretary General and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

When sex work began to be decriminalised in Australia more than 20 years ago I thought we were the first in a domino effect of collapsing sex work laws globally .   I knew hardly anything of the outside world then. I now understand much better why the opposite has happened and why, with a couple of exceptions, laws against sex work have worsened for sex workers globally.  Although those reasons are obviously varied and complex, I think the issue of removing laws against living off immoral earnings, brothel keeping etc has functioned as a ‘deal breaker’  that has impeded us forming the alliances we need to move the decriminalisation agenda forward globally.

Most of the agencies who support removing the offences that are used against women who sell sex ( and less often against men and transgenders) at the same time support retention  of the offenses that are used against people that operate or service  the sex industry. (pimps)

Why is this ? It’s the fashion in literature on sex work and law  to follow any mention  of  sex business operators with (pimps) in brackets.  At first I just thought the use of bracketed American slang to clarify who is being discussed was just another amusing folly fromAmerican friends. But perhaps by invoking this stigmatising term authors are providing a clue to better understanding  the disconnect between sex workers and the allies we need to support our demands  if we are to be successful.  That we don’t have that support is clear.  Of all the agencies and individuals calling for ‘removal of punitive laws against sex workers’ almost none are expressing support for removal of the laws against operating or servicing sex businesses ( pimping) . The ‘best’ we get is a call for better enforcement to ensure that innocent family members are not ‘wrongly’ charged with living off immoral  earnings ( pimping ) .

Like all movements the sex workers rights movement is diverse so there are few policy positions that everyone in the global sex workers rights movementfully  agrees on beyond the basic principles of the Network of Sex Work Projects.    ( http://www.NSWP.org).  However there is one proposition that stands out as  universal  – sex work is work.  It’s written on our placards, chanted at our demonstrations quoted on our websites and publications.  What this slogan means is that sex workers demand that labour law  not criminal law is used to govern the sex industry and protect the conditions of the workers in that industry.  For this to happen sex businesses  and brokering commercial sex must be legal.  To benefit from labour rights sex workers who are employees must have legal employers. To benefit from health and safety regulations self employed sex workers must have access to legal workplaces and the same legal structure around their work as other self employed workers. There is no point the sex workers role in commercial sex being legal while  her employers or people from whom she rents space or advertises are criminalised. In fact in many countries where sex work  highly criminalised in reality, the law on the books only contains brothel keeping, recruiting ( pimping) type offenses.(  See http://prostitution.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000772)

It’s not surprising that sex workers look to labour law.  Labour law and regulations and their important corollary, trade unions, are the  mechanisms that have actually delivered improved working conditions to hundreds of millions of workers as they have been introduced over the last two centuries.  Labour law is not  a magic bullet,  especially in poor countries,  and sex workers know that.  I remember I was fascinated when I first heard Cambodian sex workers passionately demanding ‘we must come under labour law’. They had learned a lot about workers rights issues from garment workers. ( in one of the most inspiring ‘civil society’ alliances I have ever seen)  They  knew that Cambodian garment factories  haven’t  transformed into perfect workplaces but equally they understood the role of labour law in garment workers’ journey from near slavery in dangerous sweatshops via the contemporary garment factory to their vision of the factory of the future. In this context the sex workers could very easily locate two primary differences between their struggle  and that of the  garment workers  – the stigma and the law that criminalises ‘sexual expolitation and trafficking’ .

So why can’t our allies among  academics, feminists and human rights agencies  accept this ?  Why do we so so many advocates argue for repeal of laws against soliciting and selling sex but not laws against brothel keeping and profiting from, organising or brokering commercial sex ? ( pimping) . Why do they make an argument for ‘decriminalisation’ of sex workers and  suport laws that prevent ‘economic exploitation of sex workers’  (pimping) ? ( eg Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Networkhttp://www.aidslaw.ca/publications/publicationsdocEN.php?ref=199)

I have been surprised to see human rights abuses associated with anti-trafficking/sexual exploitation law attributed to poor enforcement of otherwise sound laws against  people that operate sex businesses ( pimps)  ( e.g. Off the Streets by Human Rights Watchhttp://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/07/20/streets-0) Why do human rights advocates  dismiss  sex workers view that the trafficking paradigm itself is flawed and the demands to repeal laws that prohibit sex buinsiness  (pimps)  ?  I can’t understand support for banning sex work advertisements because the advertisers ( pimps) have failed to prevent the abuse of women.  ( see about 2 million internet posts about  Craigslist )

What do people want for sex workers ?  A cosy cottage industry of all female sex worker collectives in which no sex worker facilitates or profits from the prostitution of another ? ‘ (pimps) ( or ‘pimps herself’  – I have actually read people talking about women trafficking themselves !) Although some sex workers might agree that a cottage industry of worker collectives would be nice, there is no sex worker in the world who doesn’t know that if you work in a criminalised environment you are affected by that criminalisation even if  there is no specific law against what you are doing.

Of course I understand that people feel sorry for sex workers who work in horrible conditions and feel angry about the people that exploit them.  We all do.  I am sure the same well intentioned people feel sorry for garment workers too but the difference is they recognise their right to be employees and they don’t advocate criminalising the people that run garment factories .  It doesn’t help sex workers struggle for rights to work these sentiments into professional policy advocacy.  After all,  sex workers know (pimps) best and they are demanding a fully legalised sex industry. The DMSC in India, the well known sex worker rights group, challenged (pimping) laws in court.

So here is an open message to all  those who are  advocating around sex work law reform.    Please use precious advocacy opportunities to support sex workers position that sex work is work. This means that sex workers, like all other workers, need labour rights to reduce their vulnerability including to  unscrupulous and abusive service providers and employers. To reach our agreed goal of being governed by labour law not criminal law, organising sex work and employing sex workers  must  be legal. Please don’t give expression to understandable disdain for the stereotypical violent male pimp by supporting laws against organising commercial sex or providing services and workplaces to sex workers.

There are excellent laws against kidnapping, assault, robbery and rape.  Please use precious advocacy opportunities to press States to use them properly to address criminal abuse of sex workers, including by police who are the main perpetrators.

And please, please  stop using the term (pimp).


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11/09/2010 at 06:04 7 comments

Website launched on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Today is International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. The Paulo Longo Research Initiative (PLRI) marks this important day with the launch of its new website, www.plri.org.

The PLRI website is a substantial library of resources about sex work in the context of economics, law, health, gender and sexuality, and migration. As it grows the site will increasingly showcase important research findings, host discussions among academics and sex workers and provide text and video news about relevant events and publications. The site will provide health service providers, policy makers, social workers, human rights advocates and students invaluable opportunities to learn about issues that affect sex workers.

December 17 provides an opportunity to reflect on why research is needed to provide evidence to guide measures to protect sex workers from violence and exploitation.  Sex workers from all over the world have long argued that criminal laws against sex work render them vulnerable to abuses, including unprotected sex and lack of access to services and justice. But many countries continue to criminalise sex workers and sex worker organisations everywhere receive frequent reports of violence.

Sex workers all over the world are subject to violence, exploitation and abuse.  For example:

  • USAID research conducted in 2006 in Cambodia found that of the female and transgender sex workers surveyed approximately half were beaten by police; about a third gang-raped by police and about three-quarters were gang-raped by other men during the past year.
  • In Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa Jane Arnott and Anna Louise Crago found that repeated violence, extortion and detention by law enforcement officers leave sex workers feeling constantly under threat in a climate of impunity that fosters further violence and discrimination against sex workers from the community-at-large. Migrants and transgender sex workers are particularly affected.
  • In Pakistan research into sexually transmitted infections by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that HIV services need to be tied in with efforts to reduce discrimination, exploitation and violence against sex workers if they are going to be effective. This includes support programmes designed to increase sex workers’ abilities to defend their own human rights.

The World Health Organisation has recognised clear links between violence and sex workers’ vulnerability to HIV and recently both Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary-General, and Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, have recommended that laws that punish sex workers be repealed in the light of evidence that they increase HIV vulnerability.

On December 17 sex worker organisations in dozens of countries demand an end to violence. Browse the PLRI website to read about the nature and causes of violence against male, female and transgender sex workers and the successes and failures of efforts to reduce it. Help to promote the site by circulating the press release to your contacts.

17/12/2009 at 10:55 Leave a comment

New film from SANGRAM and the International Women’s Health Coalition

To celebrate International Human Rights Day the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), SANGRAM, and rural Indian sex worker advocates have released a new short film. The film explores how the creation of a grass roots sex worker collective has helped improve access to health commodities and services, spread information on and understanding of human rights, created spaces for broader discussions on women’s health and rights and facilitated political advocacy.

Watch the film on blip.tv….

14/12/2009 at 18:40 Leave a comment

New Ugandan sex worker organisation founded

Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy released the following information on their newly founded organisation:

Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA) is a  Ugandan sex worker led organization established in August 2008 by 3 passionate and determined sexworkers who have faced harassment, insults, stigma, discrimination and arrest without trial by misinformed societies and who have been stirred into  responsive action concerning the plight of other sexworkers in the same working conditions. (more…)

02/07/2009 at 07:46 4 comments

Legal services for sex workers

Indian courtWhere governance is poor and the rule of law is weak, female, male and transgender sex workers are typically exposed to severe and pervasive human rights abuses. Abuses may consist of violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, unlawful confiscation of property, limits on freedom of movement, and discriminatory and corrupt treatment in both public and private domains. 

Chronic abuse of this kind will impact negatively on any person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Responding to these matters has been a key focus of sex worker activism globally. Sex workers have been involved in many projects in order to reduce the occurrence of these harms. There range from local anti-violence initiatives and police training to international human rights advocacy.

However the impact of legal services for sex workers generally, the relationship between legal services and health status, and the place of legal services amongst other responses has not been rigorously examined.  (more…)

15/06/2009 at 10:54 Leave a comment

Sex work and the law in India: An AIDS INDIA e FORUM debate

A recent discussion about sex work from the AIDS INDIA e FORUM provides an insight into how the laws to control and regulate sex work in India are viewed by various stakeholders.

The AIDS INDIA e FORUM is a virtual organization responding to the HIV and AIDS crisis in India, by connecting the key stake holders together. This FORUM facilitates networking, communication and collaboration among those who are involved or interested in HIV and AIDS related issues in India. One of its main functions is a moderated email list through which members share information and mobilise around issues of common interest.  

The discussion was prompted by the defeat of a new law to regulate sex work – the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Amendment Bill. According to Tripti Tandon of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit the Bill:  

‘Intended to shift legislative policy on sex work from tolerance to prohibition. This was sought to be done through the introduction of a new offence of visiting a brothel, which would penalise clients. It also sought to broaden the meaning of prostitution to include all transactional sex, as opposed to acts involving exploitation on a commercial scale.

By inserting a definition of trafficking for prostitution, the bill attempted to criminalise poverty induced sex work. Other changes included lowering rank of Police authorized to arrest, search and raid brothels and extending detention of sex workers to seven years. Sex workers vehemently opposed these measures which, they believed, would offset any positive effect of decriminalizing soliciting.’ (more…)

05/04/2009 at 09:31 1 comment

Lies, damn lies and statistics

One of the main tasks of PLRI is to improve the evidence base on sex work. We spend a lot of time grappling with existing research to try and understand its validity and the ethics of its manufacture. Understanding research and communicating it honestly and appropriately is not always easy. Sometimes research findings can be misunderstood and sometimes they are wilfully misrepresented to support a normative position.

A lively exchange yesterday on the message boards of the Guardian, a UK newspaper, has brought some of these tensions out into the open. The article that attracted all the interest, The truth of trafficking, was featured in the print edition of the newspaper. Articles on this topic appear in the Guardian on an almost weekly basis stimulated, in part, by proposed law reform that would criminalise the clients of sex workers who are ‘controlled for another person’s gain’.

It is not unusual for online media coverage of sex work related issues to set the message boards alight. Often they attract a strange breed of commentator. It is not unusual to find legitimate comment crowded out by remarks that are irrelevant, ill informed and at worst abusive.

What is striking about the interventions made by readers in response to this article – beyond how relevant and well argued their points are – is how they centre on the use/misuse of evidence. Specifically the assertion made by the author that, ‘In Britain, it is estimated that 80% of the 80,000 women in prostitution are foreign nationals, most of whom have been trafficked.’ (more…)

03/04/2009 at 16:54 1 comment


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  • Working Misunderstandings:Donors, Brokers and Villagers in Africa’s AIDS Industry
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  • Proposal to European Parliament recommending the Swedish Model
    feature Mary Honeyball, Labour's Spokesperson on the European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee, has been a vocal supporter of anti-sex work legislation and has written a report to the European Parliament recommending the Swedish Model, which criminalises the purchase of sex. In a blog leading up to the discussion Alex […]
  • Sex Work and Human Rights
    off A useful outline of sex workers rights including the right to health Year of publication:  2013 Theme:  Human Rights and Law Sex Workers And Human Rights.pdf Author:  Urban Justice Centre […]
  • Closing the bridge: Avahan's HIV prevention programs with clients of female sex workers in India.
    off This publication describes Avahan’s HIV prevention interventions with male clients of female sex workers, who are the primary bridge population in India. Year of publication:  2014 Theme:  Health and HIV closing-the-bridge.pdf Author:  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Relevant URL:  https://docs.gatesfoundation.org/documents/closing-the-bridge.pdf r […]
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    off Women who use drugs are extremely vulnerable to HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but studies on risk behaviours and HIV infection among female drug users are limited in Nepal. Year of publication:  2014 Theme:  Health and HIV Author:  Bhagabati Ghimire Relevant URL:  http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/13/1238/abstract read more […]

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